Space Junk is Real and it Travels at 17,000 MPH


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UPDATE An accumulation of space debris is making it increasingly more difficult for satellites to navigate safely, reports Bloomberg. In addition to non-functioning equipment and abandoned booster materials, there is now estimated to be at least 1,500 fragments of a destroyed Russian orbiter circling Earth.

Live satellites traveling through the region must now drive around obvious hazards much like highway motorists avoiding road debris. While the Russians successfully launched an anti-satellite weapon, the experiment highlighted a growing problem previously reported in Inside Towers.

Additionally, the pieces of the exploded orbiter are zipping around at up to 17,000 miles per hour, making them potentially lethal. After the explosion, occupants of the International Space Station were warned to close hatches and seek the safety of a docking bay. With more countries and companies poised to enter the stratosphere, the prospect of a collision with space debris escalates.

“We’re at a time of transformative change in the human use of space,” stated Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian research institute. “We are seeing more and more satellites getting damaged by orbital debris hits. Occasionally satellites get destroyed.”

“Dramatic increases in space collisions, and new space debris, are expected within just a few years,” agreed Jim Bridenstine, a Viasat board member and former NASA administrator, in a recent report to the U.S. Senate.

The Department of Defense currently tracks over 27,000 pieces of orbiting junk, according to NASA. As applications for more new satellites are piling up, all applicants are taxed with the burden of figuring out how to clean up after themselves. Suggestions so far have included magnetic capture for existing debris, and harpoons and nets to catch discarded materials during the launch.

“At some point we have to start to clean this up,” said McDowell.

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